Traveling overseas for the first time is an experience like no other.

The Morris-August Honors Program gave me that exact opportunity. At the end of this past spring semester, I had the opportunity to travel abroad to Romania and Poland with six of my classmates, as well as the Assistant Professor of Sociology Dr. Carolyn Keller and Assistant Professor of Sociology for the Sociology, Anthropology, and Criminology Department Dr. Niall Moran.

The Honors Program offers a course titled, “Global Engagement,” with the curriculum focused on a specific country or group of countries. At the end of the course, the professor takes their students abroad. The countries vary every spring semester.

As a class we learned about stratification, which are the layers of society based on four elements: social class, gender, ethnicity and religion. Both countries had a huge transition from democracy to a market economy.

The countries we traveled to were vastly different than the United States. Bucharest and Cluj Romania were extremely underdeveloped. The streets were cobblestone and the buildings were evidently outdated. Homelessness was everywhere and took an emotional toll on me at times. Adults were constantly begging for money, and their children would too. These people were everywhere on the streets, and Dr. Keller had warned us before visiting that they would target tourists. The homeless population was much more than I had ever seen before.

In Romania we visited, The Palace of the Parliament, museums, several churches and a small Romanian village. While riding into the small village, we observed people picking mushrooms for food. This amazed my peers and I to see individuals picking food to feed themselves. As Americans we have the tendency to not realize how good we have it. Food is easily accessible to us at grocery stores everywhere.

We rode further into the village in a wagon behind a horse. In the village, we were fed a home cooked meal by a very welcoming family. It was certainly an experience like no other. We sat outside their home at picnic tables that were dressed beautifully with table cloths and hand-painted dinnerware. The family spoke excellent English and we were extremely grateful for their amazing hospitality.

Contributing photo / Emma Hamiltion

Contributing photo / Emma Hamiltion

In both countries the food was delicious. It was very much like what we have here in the United States, but breakfast was different. It was the first time I have ever eaten cold cut sandwiches for breakfast. They don’t have the same type of breakfast food we do . Polish chocolate is absolutely amazing, along with the obvious: pierogies.  A similarity between the countries is how inexpensive everything was. The exchange rate from the US dollar to their currency at the time we were visiting was very good.

We went from ancient looking Romania, to Warsaw and Krakow, Poland, which  looked like a smaller New York City. The differences between the two were astonishing. The city was busy and incredibly lively with skyscraper buildings.

Much of Poland was destroyed during the war, but it was rebuilt and named, “Old Town” due to how similar it looks to the town before. The architecture is absolutely beautiful. The design and colors of the buildings varied making them interesting to the human eye.

While exploring we visited a Polish Jewish cemetery, which really took an emotional toll given their history in Poland. Several Polish Jewish people lost their lives during the Holocaust.  It was enormous and completely full. The section dedicated to children made my heart tremble. We visited Auschwitz on our last day of traveling. Stepping on the grounds where so many suffered and lost their lives twisted my stomach into knots.

I’m lucky that Keene State gave me the opportunity to participate in the Honors Program.  This is one of the greatest experiences the program has to offer.

Without the class or Dr.Keller, I might never have gone overseas, and now all I want is to go back.

Emma Hamilton can be contacted at ehamiltion@kscequinox.com.